If you asked Brandon’s middle schoolers how a bull rider grips his rope on Oct. 25, you would probably get silence. If you asked the same question a day later, they might be able to answer.
Riding rough stock was one, but not the only, topic at the Keystone Centre’s main arena as the region’s Grade 6-8 students got a temporary backstage pass into rodeo.
The Equine Academy returned Oct. 26 to Brandon’s Ag Ex, the last — and arguably most agriculture-oriented — fair put on by the Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba in 2017.
“We wanted to educate the students on, not just the rodeo, but the entire horse industry,” trade show and program co-ordinator Jennifer Skiehar said. “They come in and they learn about the rodeo. They learn about the fast track, which is all of the timed events, bucked off, which is all of the rough stock events and then they also learn about the health of the horse, the history of the horse, business of horses and the life cycle of horses — it’s really just to give them the opportunity to learn more about the actual horse industry and what’s out there and make sure they’re aware that these horses are prized animals.”
The similar Moo!Mania education program centred around the beef industry drew younger students from Grades 3-5 on Oct. 24, many from the same schools that attended the Equine Academy days later.
The horse event targeted older students to give her organization’s agricultural education more reach, Skiehar said.
“It might be a little bit harder because you have to teach them a little bit differently than the younger kids, but that’s why we did it, to work with different kids and bring in different ages,” she said.
It’s the second year for the Equine Academy. In 2016 the Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba introduced the event as a tie-in to the Manitoba Finals Rodeo, now the fair’s main evening attraction.
The Manitoba High School Rodeo Association provided instructors for the day Oct. 26. Competitors walked students through the details of rodeo events, equipment, feed, horse measurements and rodeo safety — including a literal inside look into the rodeo clown barrel.
For Sheilagh Sattler, a Glenboro resident and mother to this year’s Manitoba High School Rodeo Association queen, Milagh Sattler, the event was one out of a long list she has attended to promote their sport. All three of her children compete, she said, including roping, goat tying, and timed events for the girls and bull and saddle bronc for her son.
“It’s an amazing sport for any kid,” she said. “It teaches them responsibility, respect, work ethic. With high school rodeo you have scholarships that you can get — just lots of good stuff with high school rodeo. I can’t say enough.”
It was the first time children from Earl Oxford School in Brandon attended.
Tiffany Easton, one of the teachers to accompany two Grade 5/6 classes from the school, described the event as a good experience for the students.
“I think the kids are learning a lot. I have a lot of horse lovers in my class, so I thought this would be a perfect event to bring them to,” she said, pointing to several dressed in plaid, jeans and cowboy boots — a universal uniform in livestock fairs across Western Canada — for the occasion.
Most of her students, although not all, are from an urban background, she added.
“I think they learned a lot about bull riding and each individual event, they’ve learned a lot about,” Easton said. “Also, the equipment that they use and how to feed a horse and take care of a horse. There’s a lot of work that goes into it that I think none of us had any idea about.”
It was a less novel event for some students from Douglas Elementary, one of two rural schools to attend.
Janet Rankin, a Grade 5/6 teacher from the community 25 kilometres east of Brandon, hoped to see the event return in future years.
“They love it,” she said. “We’re from a rural school, so lots of them have horses and there’s a select few of our class who have never been around animals, so it’s great to both.”
About 170 students attended this year, slightly up from 2016. Much like the cattle-focused Moo!Mania, however, Skiehar said she is limited to a set number of spots due to scheduling.
The event is worked into the larger Ag Ex and must therefore work around livestock shows and sales.